2011 Spirit Sports Year in Review
PUNXSUTAWNEY — 2011 has been a year which saw many great accomplishments — from teams to individual — in the Punxsutawney area, and as the year winds to an end, it is the perfect time to look back on some of the achievements which stood out in 2011.
There are too many to list, and surely, some notable stories will be left off the list, but the year was one of transition, as The Spirit saw its first new sports writer since late in 2006.
Amid the transition, Punxsutawney area sports continued to thrive, leaving plenty to review as the area looks forward to 2012.
Punxsy's winter sports seasons have already started, and in the blink of an eye, Christmas 2012 will be upon the community.
Keeping that in mind, The Spirit Sports section takes this opportunity to look back on the year in sports before heading into a new season, a new year.
Today's reflection — Four outstanding team accomplishments — is part one of a three-part installment. Part Two will follow Wednesday, and Part Three will run in Saturday's edition of The Spirit, with two days off in-between as coverage of the Punxsutawney Holiday Tournament and other local events take center stage.
10- & 11-year-old LL All-Stars win D-10 title
Punxsy's 10- and 11-year-old Little League All-Star team defeated St. Marys 12-2 in four innings July 14 in Punxsutawney to clinch the District 10 Championship and advance to the Section One tournament, which was held in Cranberry.
"That's four 10-run games in a row," manager Brad Gigliotti said. "Not to take anything away from St. Marys, because they're a great team. We have a special bunch of kids, though. They're just really hitting the ball amazingly well."
Matt Blose started on the mound for Punxsy and retired St. Marys' first three batters with a little help from his defense. First baseman Gigliotti made a nice scoop on a hard hit ball, and third baseman John Serian snagged a hard line drive that seemed to be bound for the fence.
Blose allowed one run on two hits in the bottom of the second and worked out of a bit of a jam to leave two St. Marys runners stranded.
Punxsy's defense, which looked strong all night except for the third inning, committed two errors, allowing St. Marys to score one run and load the bases.
Blose worked his way out of trouble, though, and kept the damage to a minimum. Punxsy led 12-2 after the third.
Brandon Matthews took the mound early in the fourth inning for Punxsy when Blose seemed to indicate arm soreness. Matthews mixed fastballs with off-speed pitches to keep the St. Marys hitters off balance and retired the only three batters he faced.
Blose led the way for Punxsy at the plate, as well, going 3-for-3 with two doubles and five RBIs. Matthews and Sammy Gigliotti each had two hits for Punxsy, as well.
After the game, Punxsy's coaches headed down to the Mahoning Creek, and the whole team jumped in to celebrate.
"After we won in St. Marys, coach Greenblatt promised the kids that if we won, we'd all swim across the Mahoning," manager Gigliotti said. "I think that may have given the kids just a little bit of extra motivation."
Punxsy went on to win its first game at sectionals — a 4-1 victory over McLane — but lost its next two games to Harbor Creek and Franklin, eliminating it from contention for a trip to states.
"We've been together for five weeks now, every day," he said. "This is a great bunch of kids, and we made a great run. We ended up in the top 16 teams in the state, so I told them to be proud of themselves."
Punxsy girls' golf team goes undefeated
After a convincing victory Oct. 4 in Kane, the Lady Chucks' golf team remaiined undefeated for the 2011 season, but the victory was a bit sweeter than the first 16 of the year, as it meant Punxsy was the District IX champion.
"We've had our hopes set on this win all season, but we knew going into today's match that we would have some serious competition," Punxsy head coach Katie Irwin said. "The course has some very tricky holes, and Kane had a definite advantage playing on their own course. But our girls played smart, focused rounds and deserved the win."
The format of the tournament had the Lady Chucks biting their fingernails in hopes they'd come in with the lowest team score, but when the dust settled, Punxsy shot a combined 445, 20 strokes lower than runner-up Clearfield.
"As the scores were going up on the board, we just held our breath," Irwin said. "But when Sarah (London) came in under 110, we knew we had it."
Punxsy's low-shooter for the day was Lauren Giavedoni with a 106.
As had been the case all season, though, Punxsy relied on a strong team effort from top to bottom.
Giavedoni's 106 was the highest of the four schools' best scores, but Punxsy's four scorers were within 13 strokes of Giavedoni — a mark much better than the other teams.
Sarah London (107) was Punxsy's second lowest score.
Caroline Dunkel finished third for the champs with a 113.
Punxsy's final scorer was Marisa Stockdale, coming in with a 119.
Irwin also said that a large part of her team's success could be attributed to the support it has back in Punxsutawney.
"Our team is lucky to have such a great support system backing them," she said. "All the parents do so much for their daughters, and they always encourage sportsmanship among the girls. Tom Dunkel gave his time and helped us again this year, and our club pro, Dan, (Pisarchick) gave them lots of tips.
"This team has a lot of heart, and its easy to see why. They don't just want to win for themselves, they do it for each other and for all those who believe in them."
Irwin also noted the importance of the team members who contributed all season but didn't make the trip to Kane due to the format of the tournament.
Unfortunately for the Lady Chucks, although they won districts, their team score wasn't low enough to qualify for regionals, so their final match of the season was played at Brockway Oct. 6 — a win by forfeit to clinch the perfect season.
Boys' golf team claims D-IX, AML Championships
PUNXSUTAWNEY — Behind a pair of 79s and a pair of 87s, the Punxsy boys' golf team shot a team score of 332 to win the District IX championship Sept. 26 in Bradford. The Chucks' performance even surprised their own coach a bit.
"At first, I really didn't think we had a chance," Punxsy head coach Josh Conrad said. "I just assumed Bradford would clinch it because it's their home course. But as the scores came in, and Bradford's full score was posted, we started doing the math and realized we had surpassed them. As each team score was posted, I had Mike (Blose) add them up several times, because I really couldn't believe what was happening."
Bradford didn't even finish runner-up to Punxsy, as Johnsonburg edged the Owls by two shots to earn second place in the team competition. Bradford's Josh Stauffer was the low medalist on his home course, but his teammates' scores were just too inconsistent to out-duel Punxsy.
Punxsy's low men were Ian Miller and Brandon Mancuso, each shooting a 79 and "playing within themselves" as Conrad had asked them to do in the week leading up to the championships.
Micky DeChurch and Mike Blose were Punxsy's other players, and each shot respectable 87s to secure the Chucks' victory.
The Chucks' last district title came in 2004, and Conrad said this one means just as much as a team.
Then, despite windy, rainy conditions the Punxsutawney Chucks boys' golf team won the Allegheny Mountain League Championship, 363-374, over the Elk County Catholic Crusaders Oct. 15 in Punxsutawney.
"Weather was an extreme factor," Punxsy head coach Josh Conrad said. "We were the only people on the course because the wind was so bad. Hitting a green in regulation was an incredible accomplishment."
Ryan States was the medalist for the day, notching a 90 to lead the Chucks. Miller, DeChurch and Blose followed, all earning 91s on the 18-hole challenge.
Mancuso and Logan Reed both golfed for the Chucks at the tournament as well but were not scored.
The two shot 92 and 102, respectively.
ECC's top golfers were Eliott Struble and Michell Struble, who both notched 93.
"ECC played well; they are a great team, and they're great kids," Conrad said. "We can only hope that they'll be hosting us at their home course next year."
The Punxsy Chucks' next stop was the regional competition, which took place at Tom's Run Golf Course Oct. 18 in Blairsville.
The District IX champs, Punxsy played in the PIAA Regional Tournament and placed fourth of six teams.
The tournament was the final one for Punxsy, as only the top two seeds from regionals advanced to states.
Punxsy head coach Josh Conrad said that although it would have been nice to play better than they did, he was proud of his players.
"I'm definitely proud of them," he said. "It's tough to see the seniors go out like this, but Micky DeChurch and Ian Miller carried us all year long, so you can't say anything bad about that."
Young Lady Chucks VB squad nearly wins district
Entering the final pool play match against the No. 1-seeded Lady Owls of Bradford Nov. 5, the Lady Chucks volleyball team wasn't sure which tie-breaker would be used if it could sweep the Lady Owls, but the squad knew it controlled its own destiny.
The Lady Chucks also knew the difficulty of the task ahead of them.
Bradford had handed Punxsy a three-game loss in the teams' only meeting this season, but Punxsy was a different, more-mature team this time around: A team with five consecutive wins under its belt and more experience behind its younger players.
The Lady Chucks did the improbable and defeated the Lady Owls in two games, but later found out doing so put them in a three-way tie with no tie-breaker.
A three-team playoff would determine the District IX champion.
Punxsy had earned the No. 1 seed after the re-seeding for the playoff, but the Lady Owls defeated St. Marys to earn a rematch and powered their way to a 25-13 victory over the Lady Chucks in the one-set playoff to earn the District IX title.
Despite the disappointing result, Punxsy head coach Lisa Kephart wanted to express just how proud she was of her team's perform-ance and improvement throughout the year.
"This was such a tough loss for our team," she said. "They wanted it so badly, but so did Bradford. I think that it is such an accomplishment to make it this far. We had such a huge transition this year; having a new coach and almost an entire new varsity team. A lot of adjustments were made throughout the season, and it took a lot of time to find our groove. To be able to get here really proved a lot."
It was the Lady Chucks' pool play match-up with the Lady Owls that really showed just how much they matured throughout the season.
The Lady Chucks led early in their first game when they hosted Bradford Oct. 3 in the teams' only regular season meeting, but Bradford's Ali Linfrette had a hot serving hand and led the Lady Owls to a comeback in the first set of a three-game sweep.
But Punxsy didn't let that loss factor into its play, as Punxsy controlled both sets to win in two close games 25-23, 25-23.
"That was such a fun match to play, and to come out on top was awesome," Kephart said. "That match really showed what these girls can do and how hard they can work for a win. I was so impressed how well they worked together as a team. Each player had so much emotion, and they were focused on that win. Shayla (Brink) had a great game hitting, which was allowed by Cassie (Cook's) fantastic setting. Cassie did a wonderful job all day."
Kephart was proud of the growth her team showed in this two-set win over the king-seed entering districts.
"All that I can say for my team is that they have improved so much throughout the season," she said. "I couldn't be more proud of them."